How I won a Karate Championship 4 months after Giving Birth

Also published on Medium

Two months after giving birth, I stood in the middle of the weight room, a place that had always felt like my second home. In that same amount of time, I would be in Lima, Peru to represent the United States at a Pan American Karate Championship. That day in the weight room, I stood there in a stupor. What was I thinking to agree to compete so soon after delivering a baby? Could I even pick up a weight, do a push up, or a simple front kick— much less be able to evade one? It was in this stupor that I realized exactly what my body had gone through: it had just served as a vehicle through which a tiny human had passed. For more than 15 years I had trained my body to be able to take a life and now I had used it to give life.

This range of experiences has helped me to develop tricks of the trade that you, too, can use to ensure a healthy pregnancy and recovery.

First, a little bit about my activities during pregnancy. I was still punching and kicking into my 9th month, albeit with adjusted speed and force. My weight training, which I had kept up, tapered off around 8 months. Instead, I began walking 30 minutes to 1 hour per day, approximately 5-7 days a week. I ate mostly vegetarian and tons of fruits, nuts, and eggs. My water intake was terrible, but my hot chocolate drinks with almond milk were consistent! I did not weigh myself except when visiting the doctor (they said 30 lbs total gained) and instead chose to pay attention to how my clothes fit and made me feel.

After I gave birth, I took 6 weeks to rest completely. I highly recommend this rest time so that your body, mind, and soul can sync up.

While every pregnancy and recovery looks and feels different, I found that a few basics made the difference, and ultimately helped me get back into a state to win.

Tip #1 – Spice up your water during and after pregnancy.

Increasing your water intake has several significant benefits such as helping you stay energetic, increasing the much needed fluids for you and baby, helping to produce breastmilk, preventing hemorrhoids, and much more. To encourage you to meet your daily H2O intake, mix 5 teaspoons of chia seeds with a splash of orange blossom water in a 32 ounce water bottle. Chia seeds are a great source of fiber and calcium, and orange blossom water is a healthy natural flavor that is typically used in Middle Eastern desserts. Make a few bottles at a time and save them in the fridge so you can grab and go.

Tip #2 – Hit the weights while pregnant.

With the permission of your physician, of course. This point is uber super important for several reasons. The first is that weight training prepares your muscles to be strong enough to hold the extra weight gained during pregnancy. Second, your muscle strength and memory will kick in during push time. And finally, strong muscles will bounce back quickly after having been expanded. Think of a rubber band that bounces back to its original shape after being stretched. This is the action you want your body to create, and this applies for both vaginal and c-section deliveries.

Tip #3 – Use Kimeh during push time.

Kimeh is an action used in Traditional Karate, which is what I practice. It involves contracting specific muscles toward the floor and the opponent at the moment that contact is made. The action helps to transfer one’s force (or energy) through the opponent. It sounds scarier than it is, so don’t put down the idea just yet! My doctor was so impressed by this method because it sped up my pushing progress immensely.

To practice kimeh – for pushing out a baby – start by lying on your back with legs lifted as you would have them in the delivery room. Relax your head and neck and let your arms lay by your side. While keeping your spine in its natural position, sequentially contract your muscles downward toward your pelvic as if going number 2. Start at your back and abdominal muscles (both upper and lower), your glutes, and push your elbows downward to help with this directional force. Eventually you will perform the sequential contraction of these muscles simultaneously.

Next, incorporate breathing. Start by inhaling deeply, then perform kimeh. Keep the inhale for 7 counts and exhale on 8, 9, 10. Keep your head lifted an inch off the floor and your chin parallel to the floor, with neck muscles relaxed. The more proper your alignment, the more efficiently the energy will travel through your body toward your target point – the pelvic.

Tip #4 – Wear a belly band after delivery.

Whether you have a vaginal or cesarean section delivery, consult your doctor about wearing a belly band. The hospital should carry them so be sure to ask for one once you are in the post-partum room. I wore the hospital belly band the day after delivery for about 2 weeks and then switched to the Waist Cincher by Spanx. Not only does wearing a belly band help your uterus transition back to its original size, but it also directs your muscles and skin to come back together.

Tip #5 – Hold your pee, and plank!

Much like my Traditional Karate training, you don’t need a gym or equipment to train. All you need is yourself and some space. Planks are one of the best core exercises with which you can treat your body. There is, however, one key component to doing them. You know how you sometimes have to hold your pee? The muscle you engage to do so is called the pubococcygeus muscle or PC. Activating them through contraction/expansion – also known as kegels – is a great way to strengthen the base of the vagina muscles during the weeks following delivery.

The key to performing effective front and side planks is to keep your body in one line. When you’re in this aligned position, hold your pee muscle and starting counting! Begin with 3 sets of 30 seconds for each plank once a day.

Aside from karate-based training, I used a strength and conditioning program designed by Jarrett Brumett.

Tip #5 – Recruit a trusted circle.

We all need help to do our best. Don’t be shy or too proud to enlist your partner, parents, siblings, neighbors, and friends to be there for you. Be very clear about what you would want or need. This includes giving you the space to be alone, which is extremely important given that in the first few weeks your body, mind, and spirit will be completely hijacked by your newborn. Your trusted circle will be your fortress, protecting your energy and sharing in the range of emotions and experiences you will undoubtedly have.

Tip #6 – Remember your sense of self.

You may be many things to many people but do not forget about you – the common denominator. Find a way to reserve 10 minutes daily to shower (this includes a sitz bath if you were instructed to take one), put on make-up, and make your hair presentable. Feeling clean and put together will rejuvenate your spirit and remind you of your ‘sense of self’ in the midst of many demands. By taking care of you, you can be your best for those you love.

As you try these pointers, be kind to yourself. And remember that the real gold medal is in your arms.